November 20, 2013 by Crane Wood Stookey
As leaders we need to know, in any situation, what is needed and what is not needed. We have also been taught that anger is to be avoided, that it’s destructive and egotistical to vent our anger at people when things go wrong. But what if anger is actually what a particular situation needs? What if things are so stuck in a counterproductive state that they can be dislodged and moved forward only by the sharpness of loosing patience with them? Read more…
October 9, 2013 by Crane Wood Stookey
Here’s a simple practice for shifting your attitude, on the spot, whenever you need to.
If you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or even just a bit preoccupied and distracted, pay attention to how you walk. If you’re walking down the hall, or along the street, or through the parking garage, slow down. You will lose a few seconds getting to your destination, maybe even a minute. So what? Walk at a moderate pace, relax your shoulders, look up. Let your breathing fall in rhythm with your pace. It’s not Monty Python’s Ministry of Funny Walks. It’s simply enjoying the movement of your limbs, and your movement through space.
It’s simple, but when we’re feeling encumbered by too many things to be able to bring our personal best to the moment, deliberate walking can have a remarkably unencumbering effect. Even if you don’t have anywhere to go, get up and walk around the floor once.
Your mind may be distractable, but your body is not. Let the physical sensations of walking unencumber you.
For many people, walking is a good way to relax and think, and that’s great. But this practice is different. It’s not about thinking so much as it is about sensing, using your physical senses to clear your head. It’s a practice of bringing yourself to a more spacious, expansive attitude first, so you then can bring that spacious expansiveness to whatever you need to think about, and to whatever you need to do next.
Throughout the day, you can bring a sense of relaxed and spacious doing to simple things, even to getting yourself from one place to another. And out of many simple things, bigger simple things arise, like a spacious, unencumbered attitude toward the challenges of your day.
September 9, 2013 by Crane Wood Stookey
Good work is a deeply personal thing. People who are engaged with their work just on a following orders level don’t develop the depth of personal commitment that brings out their personal best. One way to engage others to do their personal best at work is to focus on creating the conditions at work that support their personal growth, on their own personal terms.
The reason leadership is about creating the conditions for people’s personal growth is that we can’t do anything directly to make people grow. Marge Simpson, on The Simpsons TV show, is famous for saying, “People who say you can’t change people are just quitters.” But anyone who has tried to get a teenager to appreciate authority, or tried to get a politician to take a long-term view, knows that we can’t change a person’s outlook by telling them to change their outlook, any more than we can stand over a plant and say “Grow!” We can only take an indirect route by offering soil, water and sunlight. Then we have to let the plant do its own growing.
I experienced the power of the indirect route Read more…
July 31, 2013 by Crane Wood Stookey
This summer, I broke my left heel bone. This is something you never want to do.
It happened at the Nova Scotia Sea School’s building in Lunenburg, one of those grand old wooden buildings on the wharves. Not much has changed in these buildings since the days of salt cod. We’ve added a staircase but the old ladder connecting the floors is still there, and we often still use it as a shortcut to get downstairs where the toilets are.
The Sea School moved into that building in 1996, and I’ve been going up and down that ladder all these years since. But this time I fell off it, and I have no idea why. My foot didn’t slip. I have no memory of losing my balance. Suddenly I just wasn’t on the ladder, and I fell 6 feet and landed standing with all my weight crashing onto my left heel. And that was that.
Now I don’t see ghosts, but some of the Sea School staff have seen ghosts in that building, and other people in Lunenburg say, “Oh, yes, there’s ghosts in that building for sure.” So some people were thinking, maybe I was pushed. Read more…
July 9, 2013 by Crane Wood Stookey
When the Nova Scotia Sea School builds one of our expedition boats, we get the wood from Windhorse Farm, an eco-forestry woodlot in New Germany, Nova Scotia, that’s been producing a steady supply of lumber for more than 150 years. Its owners this generation, Jim and Margaret Drescher, have run the business on the premise that their true product is the forest itself. Lumber is a byproduct. Because they and the generations before them have viewed the forest as the product, there is now, after continuous lumber production that has supported several local families for 150 years, more potential lumber growing in the trees of the forest than there was when the first tree was cut. The true source of wealth is not the lumber, it’s the forest.
The true source of wealth in an organization is not its products, but people’s ability to produce those products. Of course, right? But we can see this idea in much more personal terms. Organizational strength is the byproduct of personal strength. It’s not enough Read more…
January 24, 2012 by Crane Wood Stookey
We usually accept that teaching others can be a generous thing to do. Being willing to learn from others can also be generous, and a powerful way to engage the best in them.
What do your people know that you don’t? Have you made an effort to find out? Have you created a culture in which people expect to learn from each other up and across the organizational chart as well as down?
It may feel a bit unsettling to encourage people under you to show that they know more than you do, but people are always going to know things you don’t know. None of us are omniscient. An excellent way to engage people is to ask them to teach something, and then make the effort to actually learn it and make use of it.
Curiosity practice – If you are not naturally inclined to seek out what you can learn from your team members, you can start with safe territory. For instance, Read more…
January 8, 2012 by Crane Wood Stookey
Michael Scott was for many years CEO of Precision BioLogic, a medium-sized medical products company rated one of the Top Ten Best Places to Work in Canada. He’s now Executive Chair.
For a few years now Michael has been pushing the chairs back against the boardroom table whenever he sees that they’re out of place. He makes sure the chairs are evenly spaced and neat. He’ll do this at the end of any meeting he’s in, after people have left or as he’s talking to someone who stayed behind. If he walks by the open door to the room and sees another group has left the chairs in disarray, he’ll go in and arrange them, and whoever might be walking with him has to follow him in.
His employees began by thinking this was odd, Read more…
January 4, 2012 by Crane Wood Stookey
Do you ever feel psyched out, stuck in worried preoccupation, or just completely disengaged and wanting to be somewhere else? What do you do when you’re caught up in an unproductive state of mind and you’re having trouble getting out of it? Do you have practices that help you ground yourself again, so you can proceed at your best?
Here’s a technique that works for me when I need to re-engage myself; when I need to change my mind, in the moment, on the spot. I feel these kinds of things are good to remind myself of at the start of a new year.
These techniques have to be simple and readily available. This one’s called Doorknob Practice.
A doorknob has a shape, a texture, a temperature, a quality of movement, a sound as it operates. It has a feel in your hand. It has a feel in your mind.
When you handle a doorknob, you can use that moment as a small but complete self-engagement practice for yourself. First, let the doorknob hold your attention. Let it hold the participation of all your senses for the moment you touch it. Read more…
November 26, 2011 by Crane Wood Stookey
Captain Jan Miles has been captain of the PRIDE OF BALTIMORE II for over 25 years, and I sailed with him on PRIDE as one of the Mates on a nine-month voyage from Baltimore up the Atlantic coast into the Great Lakes and back. The PRIDE is a Tall Ship, a 157’ square-topsail schooner carrying over 9,000 square feet of sail, and she sails all over the world as goodwill ambassador for Baltimore and the State of Maryland.
On our way back from Chicago we were approaching Mackinac Island at the northern tip of Michigan. It was late evening, getting dark, with a moderate breeze from the northwest. Mackinac harbour is formed by rock breakwaters, and the widest part inside where PRIDE could anchor is only about eight times the length of the ship. Cruising boats at anchor are scattered throughout, and a lane has to be left open for the ferry. For a ship the size of PRIDE, it’s a crowded spot. Read more…
August 28, 2011 by Crane Wood Stookey
On a clear, windy day in the protected waters of Mahone Bay, the Sea School’s boat, ELIZABETH HALL, sails dancingly through the waves, her side only a few inches above the water. I lean down on the edge, my elbow splashed now and then, watching the elegant curve of her planks arcing steadily through the lapping and gurgling of the waves. I am as close to the water and to the graceful strength of the boat as I can be, and the intimate vividness of it makes me laugh with delight.
This is my favourite memory of leading a 7-day coastal voyage recently with a crew of twelve in this 30′ open boat. On the voyage, the thirteen of us are also as close to each other as we can be. There’s barely room for us all to stretch out on the oars at night and sleep. This is claustrophobic and frustrating, but like the closeness of the water, it’s very real. Read more…